May birthdays are associated with emeralds, lovely spring days, and the sweet, bell-shaped flowers of the Lily of the Valley. This shade-loving perennial prefers to shyly hide close to the ground, blooms draping gracefully along the green foliage.

The arrangement of the blossoms has led to their charming nickname in Ireland: Fairy Ladder.

Symbolism and Meaning

Lily of the Valley, due to the light perfume and airy nature of the floral stems, has long been a classic in bridal bouquets.

Traditionally, the symbolic meaning of the plant has also made it appropriate for brides: It is associated with humility, chastity, sweetness, and purity. It’s not hard to imagine it as a staple for Victorian arrangements, which were always heavily laden with meaning. Indeed – they were a popular addition to the bouquets that encoded so many secret messages for lovers and admirers. Their presence symbolized “Return to Happiness”.

The reasons that some flowers are associated with certain birth months can be a little murky, but the Lily of the Valley hides its May symbolism in plain sight. Look no further than its botanical Latin name of “Convallaria majalis”. The translation? “May valley”. Slightly less poetic trivia about the plant is that it’s a member of the Asparagus family. More appealing is that the French name for the flower is muguet. If that seems familiar, it’s probably because their scent is a popular ingredient on perfume, and the word pops up rather frequently in the names of fragrances.

Growing Lily of the Valley

lily of the valley

In your own garden, Lily of the Valley is a hardy bulb that naturalizes well under trees and can be blended in with other ground covers for sweet springtime accents. They prefer a well-composted soil, and don’t like to be too dry or in total shade.

They’re also lovely in rock gardens and in spots you might visit after dark, as their white blooms stand out. They spread rapidly and eagerly, and can be divided every few years. The airy sprays make wonderful cut flowers, as they have dozens of blossoms on each stem, and they provide a light fragrance to rooms.

History and Trivia

lily of the valley in the garden

As a part of bridal bouquets, the flower has remained a classic. Royal weddings seem to favor the blooms – both Princess Grace of Monaco and Duchess of Cambridge carried them down the aisle. (Neither wedding was in May!) The blooms have also been adopted by the French to celebrate their National Labor Day on May 1st. They’re also associated with Flora Day (May 8th) in the Cornwall region of England. Finland adopted them as their national flower, and they are also emblematic of Yugoslavia. Anyone who loves the flower finds themselves in good company – even a bit illustrious!

If you’d like to add a bit of fun floral facts (say that three times quickly!) to your friend’s May birthday, you can mention that the Lily of the Valley is mentioned 15 times in the Bible, that the fragrance is said to draw nightingale birds out to seek their mates, and that they were first formed from Eve’s tears. Or, you can just tell them that it was the designer Christian Dior’s favorite flower. Enjoy them on their own simple, sweet, and fragrant merits – they’re a classic.

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